ISKCON’s Second Generation Steps Up at Krishna.com

It all started when second-generation devotee Radha McClellan, who was working as a freelance web designer at the time, got a vague call asking if she wanted to join the new “Krishna project.” Always up for a challenge, Radha said yes.

BY: MADHAVA SMULLEN

Krishna.com managers Radha, Manu and Uddhava

Sep 26, MARYLAND, (SUN) — Feature story in this month’s ‘Friends of the BBT’ newsletter.

It all started when second-generation devotee Radha McClellan, who was working as a freelance web designer at the time, got a vague call asking if she wanted to join the new “Krishna project.” Always up for a challenge, Radha said yes.

But when she met the “team,” she wasn’t sure if she’d made the right decision. There were only three other people besides herself: first generation devotees Tamraparni Dasa and Pranada Dasi, and fellow second-gen Manu Dasa. And no one was quite sure what they were doing. “On the first day of work, Manu and I showed up at our office, which we were sharing with Back to Godhead magazine, and found a big empty room with two desks and two computers,” Radha says. “We just sat there for a minute, intimidated by the silence. Then we looked at each other and said, “So… What is Krishna.com?”

That was nine years ago. Today Krishna.com, the BBT’s site all about Krishna, has nearly eighty volunteers around the world and twenty-one on-site staff. And with fourteen of these being second generation—including the entire management team— Krishna.com is setting a precedent for the BBT and ISKCON worldwide.

“It may be a rough transition, but the hard truth is that over the next ten years more second and third generation devotees will have to step forward and shoulder key ISKCON projects,” says Radha. “The BBT is the most important of these, because it has the potential to reach more people than any one temple.”

Radha believes that the younger generations need to step up now, so that they will have the opportunity to learn from senior devotees. That way, they will be able to develop ISKCON projects to suit today’s needs without losing the original foundations laid out by Prabhupada and his disciples. “Krishna.com is a good example of first and second generation devotees working together towards a common goal,” Radha says. “The elders contribute managerial skills and invaluable life experience, while the younger generation are more comfortable with technology and its unending changes.”

Radha isn’t just talk. It was she who came forward when long-time managers Tamraparni Dasa and Pranada Dasi stepped away from Krishna.com’s daily operations early this year. Radha met with Manu and new web-tech Uddhava, and the trio decided to take on the roles of the management team at Krishna.com’s offices in Alachua, Florida.

For Radha, the location in ISKCON Alachua’s farm community is more than her workplace—it has history. Now thirty-one, she cherishes the memories of her life there at six years old. “I’d run around the farm barefoot and dirty with my siblings and friends, helping to pick flowers or vegetables,” she says. “We would feed newborn calves with giant bottles, laughing as milk bubbled out the sides of their greedy mouths. We learned to drive the oxen teams, and to press sugar cane. For festivals we would go out into the pastures and bring in the young cows and sometimes paint them or decorate them with flowers. I used to think that this was probably how Krishna and the cowherd boys and girls lived.”

In fact, much of Radha’s life seems to have been in preparation for the task she now faces. After earning her business degree, she worked in the service industry for years doing everything from waitressing, to retail and wholesale sales, to warehouse stocking and purchasing. She then took up a job at the ISKCON newspaper Hare Krishna World, where she took the opportunity to acquire every skill she could, often teaching herself. She learned layout and design, photo editing, database management, bulk mailing, advertising and promotion, customer service, and bookkeeping.

At Krishna.com, she takes the same Jill-of-all-trades approach. “Manu, Uddhava and I have divided up major functions of the project to suit our skills, so I’ve retained my role as Store Manager and also taken on financial, personnel, and office management,” Radha says. “But I see my job as simply doing whatever it takes to keep Krishna.com moving forward. On any given day I could work on the annual budget, launch a store sale, train a new employee, or wash dishes!”

Radha has never had a dull moment at Krishna.com, but now she and the other second-generation managers are facing their biggest challenge to date—lack of a big enough facility. Three employees work out of each tiny office and the Krishna.com store’s warehouse is packed to the rafters. However, Radha feels confident that they can jump this hurdle as they have jumped many others in the past. “The beautiful thing about Krishna.com is that no matter what problem arises, a solution seems to magically pop up at the same time,” she says. “Over the years we are reminded again and again that this project is being guided by a higher power. It’s almost as if Krishna is watching over our shoulders at every moment.”

The team’s two-year goal to solve this problem is to build an office and warehouse that can properly house the project and allow for Krishna.com’s continuing growth. And what growth it is! In 2008, Krishna.com was visited by over 670,000 unique visitors. Its store carries Krishna conscious books in thirteen languages, as well as 7,000 items aimed at supporting and enriching a Krishna conscious lifestyle. It has shipped to seventy-six countries, with more constantly being added to the list.

Krishna.com’s biggest audience are people who don’t live near a temple or center; for them, Krishna.com is their temple on the web. Concurrently, the most popular sections of the site are its temple webcams, store, art gallery, and “Connect” and “Forum” sections. And just as in a real temple, Krishna.com receives the most guests on festival days: 14,000 visited on Janmastami, Krishna’s birthday, compared to 3,500 on an average day. Of course, Krishna.com’s success is not just measured by numbers. “Even more important are our individual interactions with the people we serve,” Radha says. “There’s the man who was looking for ‘this book someone gave me back in the ’70s by Swami Prabhupada,’ and who we reconnected with the Bhagavad-gita. There are the volunteers who stay awake all night answering spiritual questions by email, only to feel enlivened all the next day. And there are the hundreds of people who visit our temple webcams to see their favorite deities.”

Despite its achievements, Krishna.com is not resting on its laurels. It’s perpetually moving towards the next project, the next Vaishnava holiday, the next upgrade. “The needs of web users are constantly changing, and we work hard to keep up with trends and new technology,” Radha says.

Case in point: the new overhaul of the site’s navigational structure, aimed at making information easier to find. “Because it’s ‘everything about Krishna,’ Krishna.com is huge—if it was printed out on paper, it would fill 16,000 pages,” says Radha. “On top of that, our audience is incredibly diverse. Some are curious about a blue fellow they saw in a picture. Others were initiated by Srila Prabhupada decades ago and want to watch the Sunday kirtan in the Los Angeles temple. So our new structure will help those new to Krishna consciousness find introductory information more easily, while also connecting seasoned devotees to the Krishna conscious online community they’re seeking.”

The result of weeks of creative meetings, brainstorming, polling and focus groups, Krishna.com’s new incarnation is expected to arrive with the new year. It will be preceded by Krishna.com Radio, which is currently under beta-testing, and phase one of the site’s new Spanish edition, due in October 2009. This first step to make the Krishna.com experience more relevant to Spanish visitors, who are the site’s second largest audience after English, will include its menu and “Read” section, featuring the entire basic teachings of Krishna consciousness. Other sections will follow.

As for long-term goals for Krishna.com, Radha has only one. “We want to continue to be relevant and inspiring to our visitors by offering Krishna conscious content in whatever format makes the most sense to each individual,” she says. “As technology advances and peoples’ lives change, the main goal is and always will be to spread Krishna consciousness to every town and village. Lord Chaitanya used sankirtan, Srila Prabhupada used books, and Krishna.com is using the internet. We’re excited to see what happens next

Posted in In the News.